Blake Griffin healthy in time for playoffs. But is he rusty?

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Blake Griffin is healthy just in time for the playoffs. The question now: How rusty is his game?

“I don’t know the answer. We’ll see,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Saturday on the eve of his team’s first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers. “Blake’s had not only five games, but some practices time as well. It’s not the exact way you would have wanted it. But we got him back, and that’s better than not getting him back.”

Griffin missed 45 games because of a partially torn right quad, and a fractured right hand from a fight with an assistant equipment manager. The Clippers won the first nine that he missed and were 30-15 overall during his absence, which included a four-game suspension from the team for the fight in Toronto.

“When you look at the stretch where Blake was out, it was like everyone had their days. That’s how we had to play this year, and it was good for us in the long run,” Rivers said. “It forced us to play small for 48 minutes a night, which I didn’t think I would ever do, but it allowed is to get into a great rhythm.”

The Clippers had the fourth-best record in the Western Conference and will host the first two games of this series. That should help Rivers gauge whether his club has the goods to get past the second round for the first time in the franchise’s 47-year history.

MORE FUEL TO THE FIRE: Both of the Clippers’ playoff series last year against San Antonio and Houston were decided in seven games. Griffin averaged 25.5 points during those games, but the Clips led three games to one before dropping the next three.

“I wouldn’t use the word underachieving, but we expect to go farther this time,” Griffin said. “I like where we’re at from a mental standpoint. We have the reassurance that we’ve been here before, and that experience alone has helped us get in the right mindset going into the playoffs.”

REDICK QUESTIONABLE: Forward J.J. Redick has a bruised left heel. If he can’t play,, two-time Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford will start in his place.

“You don’t know what you are really until you’re tested, but these guys have been tested all year,” Rivers said. “Every team and every year is different when you go to the playoffs, so you don’t have any of those answers until the playoffs.”

Rivers, who guided Boston to an NBA title in 2008, is second among active coaches in playoff wins with 77 – second behind Gregg Popovich’s 152 with the five-time champion Spurs.

BLAZER BEATERS: The Clippers won the last three meetings with Portland during the regular season after losing the first one. This is the first time these two teams will be meeting in the playoffs since the rivalry began in 1970-71, the season that both franchise entered the NBA.

“It’s different in the playoffs because it’s a different environment,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “But I feel like when we’re a healthy team, we can beat anybody. And we have so much depth now.”

BACKCOURT CHALLENGE: Point guard Damien Lillard led the Blazers with a 25.1 average and backcourt mate C.J. McCollum was right behind at 20.8. Portland has two former Clippers in small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and backup center Chris Kaman.

“The game that they won, they outrebounded us by a considerable margin, so the rebounding battle is important because they play hard and their bigs crash the boards,” Griffin said. “Corralling C.J. and Damien is on us as a team, not just on the guards. So it’s going to have to be a team effort from top to bottom.”

Pelicans Trey Murphy III reportedly invited to participate in Dunk Contest

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We knew three participants invited to the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest: G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Portland Trail Blazers Shaedon Sharpe and the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin.

The fourth slot in that event will go to the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

No doubt Murphy can throw it down with the best of them.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena (soon to be the Delta Center again). The event will be broadcast on TNT.

The Dunk Contest is the Saturday night headline event, but it has fallen flat in recent years. Adding a G-League dunker and young, bouncy athletes such as Murphy, Martin and Sharpe could make this one entertaining. However, what fans really want to see — what made the Dunk Contest must-watch back in the day when Jordan, Kobe, and Vince Carter were doing it — is the stars. There will be no Ja Morant, no Zion Williamson, and no Anthony Edwards in this contest.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 30 at Nets
Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 4 at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken in New Orleans. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the record fall when LeBron returns to Los Angeles on Feb. 7 or Feb. 9.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.

LeBron livid over no foul call at end of regulation, Lakers fall to Celtics in OT

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“The best player on earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham made that comment out of frustration after another game where the Lakers felt robbed at the end. He wasn’t the only Laker.

LeBron James was once again brilliant — 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists — but with the game tied against the Celtics and 4.1 seconds on the clock, he drove the lane and didn’t get the foul call when it clearly looked like Jayson Tatum hit him on the arm as he shot.

After the game, referee crew chief Eric Lewis admitted the officials missed the call:

There was contact. At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”

Patrick Beverley picked up a technical foul for bringing a photographer’s camera over to the referee to show evidence of the foul.

These losses are a punch to the gut for a Laker team with little margin for error and trying to make up ground in the West (at 23-27 they sit 13th in the conference). But LeBron sees a pattern — he is scoring 30.2 points per game (sixth in the league) but is getting to the line just 4.9 times per game, fewer than anyone else in the top nine in the league in scoring.

“I don’t get it. I’m attacking the paint, just as much as any of the guys in this league that’s shooting double-digit free throws a night, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it,” James said postgame in Boston.

The other Lakers were a little more direct.

Boston pulled away in overtime to get the 125-121 win, snapping their own three-game losing streak.

LeBron finished with 41, Anthony Davis 16 (on 6-of-15 shooting off the bench) and Beverley had 15 including a key putback dunk. Jaylen Brown scored 37 for Boston, Tatum 30 and Malcolm Brogdon had 26 off the bench.

There are no moral victories for these Lakers more than halfway into the season, playing the team with the best record in the NBA close and almost winning does not count. Time is running out on LeBron and his team, they need to string together some wins. They felt they should have gotten the chance to win this one.